Bengaluru: Plans for building India’s first Light Metros or intra-city rapid transit systems in Kerala, hit a roadblock on Thursday after Delhi Metro Rail Corp. (DMRC), consultant to the project, withdrew following a quarrel with the state government.
E. Sreedharan, principal advisor of DMRC, known as India’s “metro man” in recognition for his expertise in building railway lines, announced the withdrawal at a press conference in Kochi which was televised by regional news channels.
Sreedharan alleged that the Kerala government appeared to have no interest in continuing with the project and said DMRC would consequently shut down its offices in the state. Speaking in Malyalam, Sreedharan said the agency had invested a lot of hard work and money in the project.
The plan to build two light metros in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode districts, totaling a stretch of 35.12km, dates back to 2014. DMRC then prepared a detailed project report and in 2017 joined as a consultant to oversee the entire construction. Sreedharan said, however, that the government failed to sign an agreement with the agency to continue the work, despite repeated requests.
On both occasions, the agency had become involved upon the request of the Kerala government, he added. He said DMRC had already started preparatory work in some regions and had spent per month Rs16 lakh to run offices in both cities out of its own pocket. But, he said, it had to safeguard its own interests if the project was not moving ahead.
When reporters asked about Kerala public works minister G. Sudhakaran’s comment that DMRC was seeking for a contract from Kerala government on the light metro project, Sreedharan said no agency in the country other than DMRC had the competence and qualifications to carry out the proposed project.
Sreedharan’s comments came hours after Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in reply to a question in the assembly on Thursday, spoke about recent media reports about the government stalling the project and DMRC’s plans to pull out. Vijayan said the agency had pulled out of the project owing to the expiry of its contract with the government.
He said the government was worried about the costs and was studying how to go ahead, after seeing the recently commissioned Kochi metro running at a loss. However, he added that the project would not be shelved.
Mint has learned that on 13 January, Sreedharan sought time to meet the CM to discuss the project, but was not given an appointment.
On 24 January, in a letter, seen by Mint, Sreedharan asked government officials concerned to sign two agreements with the agency by 15 February to obtain the Union government’s sanction for the two metro projects and take up preparatory works. If the agreements were not signed, the agency would consider withdrawing from the project, although with great dismay and reluctance, the letter said. It went unanswered, Sreedharan said on Thursday.
On 16 February, DMRC then informed the government that it was withdrawing from both projects, in another letter seen by Mint.